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Timothy Keller



History: A young nation came into it's 46th year as the sovereign state of the United States of America, the year was 1820. At this point in our nation's youthful appearance–50 was the new 18, as far as national ages go...–there was approximately 1 church per every 875 Americans. However, during the years 1860-1906, Protestants expanded along with the West. They planted a new church for every 350 people, resulting that in 1900, we had 1 church for every 430 Americans. Obviously this is increased the amount of attendance and involvement by Americans in the local church, so much so that, in 1916, 53% of the US population were "religious adherents" up from 17% at the founding of the nation (1776). [1. Keller, Redeemer Church Planting Manual, p 32.]

At this point though, church planting ceased to increase as it had done over the last century. After WW1, older, established churches which dotted the towns across the nation resisted the addition of new churches in to their "neighborhoods." We have seen the results of this resistance. Not only is church membership down in Mainline congregations–those that most heavily impeded and apposed new churches–but many churches have had to close their doors in the recent decades. Numbers-wise: 20.4% of Americans attended a church (Catholic, Mainline, or Evangelical) on any given weekend in 1990 and dropped to 17.5% in 2005. Evangelical attendance has only slightly declined: 9.2-9.1% over those 15 years. However, in the same years we saw a net population growth of 52 million people. Illinois alone declined 7.2% in church attendance (Catholic, Mainline, or Evangelical) from 2000-2005. In fact, every state has declined in church attendance between 2000 and 2005. [2. Olson, The American Church Crisis, pp 35-43.]

I called the 1st, 2nd, and 47th Wards of Chicago today to do a quick survey of how many churches were in each ward. Each ward contains an average of 56,000 people and 25 churches. This is only 1 church per 2240 residents of these wards. Only the 47th Ward knew of 2 churches that were under 15 years old and both of them have been planted in the last 3 years. The median church size in America is 75 congregants with the average being 185. There are approximately 25 churches in these wards, then that means that between 1,875 and 4,625 out of 56,000 are going to church each weekend. Percentage-wise that's 3-8%. That's less than unemployment (8.3% February 2012 national average)!

What in the world!


Jonah comes to mind. Are we so wrapped up in our own agendas that our hearts don't break for the lost cities of the world?

But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die." And the LORD said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 person who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?" (4:8-11)

Conclusion: we need more churches in the great cities of the world.

Keller in Chicago

I was finally able to convince someone to with me to hear Tim Keller at the University of Chicago Friday night. My roommate's non-girlfriend, Kelly, headed down with me and we made it right on time, but were put in the overflow room. They had a nice video projector up and it seemed like the sound was going to be great, but when Tim got up to talk, the problems started. It was very annoying and distracting throughout, but I know the sound guys were freaking out about it more than anyone else in the room. Parts of the audio were lost, or truncated, at times, but, Lord willing, the message overcame. Oh, and they were using Macs, unlike another popular pastor.

In typical Keller fashion, he was able to come across winsomely and intelligently. He clearly explained that everyone is believing in something. Whether it's Christianity or Atheism, both are based on empirical arguments that have exclusivity claims. When he went to frame the Gospel, he did so in a very unique way. Instead of coming out and saying "here's the Gospel" or now listen to this, he first joked that "Now, I'm going to solve all our problems. And you can say you were here when it happened." Then he told us Christians to listen up, because he was talking to us, but he wanted the skeptics to overhear.

The Q&A was very well done, having both written comments and personal questions being asked. Further he answered very well, first deconstructing their argument and then answering them in a non-offensive way. One example: some one asked about the Christian sexual ethic. First Christianity has a way of offending someone from every culture. Jesus says to forgive 70 times 7, and we say "Yes, of course. Forgiveness is good." But then we question when sex is brought up. "Sex only between a man and a woman in marriage? That's crazy." But if you go to India, they say, "Yes, sex is only between a man and a woman in marriage, but forgiveness is a horrible idea. Vengeance is the way." But as Christians we are called to love our neighbor. So, in Tim's words, my neighbor who is Indian, I love. I care for him in whatever way I can. But he's not an elder in my church. Every community, he continues, has its standards for who's in and who's out. That's what defines a community. Christians are just the same.

I don't know how many people who read "me" know who Keller is, but he's the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NYC. He just put out a book called The Reason for God, which I did end up buying Friday night. If you haven't heard of him and don't want to drop the $14.95 at Amazon, he has some great audio out there. On the website for the book, there are some downloads, but the three that I would suggest one listen to are from a Resurgence conference (sessions 6, 7, 8) he did a couple years ago. Further, Steve McCoy has a bunch of Keller audio on his site. And I just found, Veritas has his talk that he did at Columbia University.

Below are my notes from the evening, which may or may not make sense. Please enjoy responsibly.

Tim Keller- Veritas Forum
7 March 2008 UChicago

  • Doubting
    • Jude "Be merciful to those who doubt."
    • Matt. 18 "Please help my unbelief."
  • Why are people so skeptical?
    • The exclusivity claims of Christianity
      • divisive, narrow.
      • Yes, they are one of the main reasons.
  • Five ordinary ways people deal with the exclusivity claims
    1. Hope it away
      1. The Still Born God, Mark Lilla
        1. The liberal mainline god
      2. science
    2. Outlaw it away
      1. China-- just makes it more indigenous
    3. Argue it away
      1. deconstructs evolutionary thought
    4. Condemn it away
      1. It's exclusive
    5. (I don't have this one)
  • Jesus: John 14
  • All religions are equally right?
    • Utterly impossible
    • Jesus says "I am God come to find you"
    • All other religious founders say "I am here to show you God."
    • Elephant analogy
    • It's not narrow to make an exclusive truth claim, everyone is trying to make an exclusivity claim.
    • Narrowness is your attitude toward people, not toward other beliefs.
    • Cultural claims are exclusive.
  • Tim's Suggestions
    • we need to realize our secular world-view as privileged
    • Christians need to recognize that we have been part of the problem, only then can we begin to be a part of the solution.
  • Moral performance narrative
    • Hard not to look down your nose.
  • Grace narrative
    • Christ went to the cross and died
    • A salvation that is accomplished in weakness can only be accepted in weakness.
  • "Have you ever seen an Amish fundamentalist?"
  • Depends on your fundamentals
    • A man dying for his enemies
  • Christianity absolutely atrophies when it gets into bed with power.
  • Cultural Biases
    • Sexual vs. Forgiveness ethics
  • Figure out which 2/3s of your beliefs g-kid's won't accept.

Mm Mm Good

Seminary classes can be really interesting sometimes, especially when you have 10+ hours in the car to think about the semester you just finished. Even more so when it's the first semester that you've finished all the work within the semester. North Park's in Chicago, Chicago and so we get people from all parts of the city and all parts of the faith traditions that are represented here. More than one would think, we get a lot of people from the South-side, which, according to my roommate, is just as ethnically diverse as the North-side, but without all the glitz--which is probably a good thing. Many of our South-side brothers and sisters come from more vocal traditions than the rest of us. (It seems Presbyterians and Covenantors have a few things in common.) During lectures, one can hear "mmm" or a few "Amens," and an occasional "Preach IT, Brother [or Sister]!"

During most car rides, I listen to sermons or talks, along with the usual plethora of music. Today, I listened to Dr. Timothy Keller's talks from the Reform & Resurge Conference 2006. He's the Senior Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. In his three talks, he spoke on "Being the Church in our Culture," "Preaching the Gospel," and "Doing Justice." I can't begin to do them justice even though I've listened to them several times now, so I'll resort mainly to the descriptions of them from "Being the Church in Our Culture" puts a lot of emphasis on doing Church in the cities, having a better understanding of the Gospel, integrating their faith with their jobs, committing to the good of the city and contextualizing the Gospel. In his second talk, "Preach the Gospel" he spoke on preaching the gospel as the building of God's Kingdom through people being redeemed by the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross, combining older evangelical thought with the pervasive postmodern outlook. In "Doing Justice" he provides the first Gospel centered explanation of being justice-oriented that I have heard--and I've been at a justice-focused seminary for 2.5 years--speaking to what is justice, as defined by the Bible, what it means to do justice, who should do it, and how you can be one of those people. It's well-worth your time and should bring you to think of Campbell's Soup--mm, mm, good.

P.S. I'm not trying to side-step any more conversation about Women in Ministry. I'm just writing what's going on in my life right now. Plus I'll be in New Testament 2 this next semester, and have a feeling we might run across a few verses on the topic.